Little Leaguer Jonathan Colson
"It was basically a dream. It was like a movie screen. Two sides pitch-black and it looks like a video. And then I saw Papa [his grandfather]. I remember watching my Mom watching me while I was sleeping." Later, when asked in school to tell something unique about himself in a paper, he wrote, "I saw heaven."
Aug 14, 2011 - fredericksburg.com - All Jonathan Colson remembers is playing baseball. He doesn't remember the lightning bolt that burned the hair off his head and knocked off his baseball shoes--shearing the cleats and melting one sock. It left him lying on the field at Lee Hill Park with no pulse, and it killed his teammate and friend Chelal Gross-Matos. It was June 3, 2009. His Little League game in Spotsylvania County had been suspended because of thunderclouds off in the distance. Most of his teammates were leaving. But there was blue sky overhead, and 11-year-old Jonathan wanted to play catch. There seemed to be time. "Don't worry, coach, we'll be all right," Jonathan said. "It was sunny," his mother, Judy Colson, remembers. "It was bright. The clouds were--I don't know how far off." "The storm," his father, Mark Colson, says, "was over the Rappahannock River," miles away. Judy Colson, who was putting chairs into the car, resisted her maternal instinct to call Jonathan off the field. "I've got to stop being so overprotective," she thought. There was the pungent smell of ozone.
The Colsons were told later that the hair on the heads of children on an adjacent field was standing on end from static electricity. "Then there was this boom--this really loud boom," Judy Colson recalls. She turned and saw Jonathan on the ground. She ran to the field. She tried to perform CPR on her son. But she wasn't sure how to do it. Maria Hardegree, an emergency-room nurse at Mary Washington Hospital, took over. It began to rain. Then there was a downpour. Hardegree continued until an ambulance arrived to take Jonathan to Mary Washington Hospital. He was then transported to VCU Medical Center in Richmond. Doctors there said whoever performed the CPR did an incredible job keeping him alive.
He had been in cardiac arrest for 43 minutes. The family was told to expect the worst. Jonathan would probably live only seven to 10 days. There was a question of whether extraordinary measures should be taken. Today, Jonathan, who is 13, says that while he was lying there on the ball field, he had what might be called a near-death experience. "It was basically a dream. It was like a movie screen. Two sides pitch-black and it looks like a video. And then I saw Papa [his grandfather]. I remember watching my Mom watching me while I was sleeping." Later, when asked in school to tell something unique about himself in a paper, he wrote, "I saw heaven."
Jonathan had burns on both his head and his legs. The lightning bolt left him with a coin-size bald spot. It essentially short-circuited his nervous system. He couldn't open his eyes, move his limbs or speak, his parents say, but tests showed brain activity. Dr. Mark Marinello of VCU pediatric critical care says doctors turned to a cooling therapy that is used for adults who have had heart failure but was experimental for children at the time. He is convinced that the treatment, along with the quality of the CPR Jonathan received, is the reason the boy has made what Marinello calls an "amazing" recovery. "Ninety-five percent of people who get CPR for more than 20 minutes will have brain damage--usually severe brain damage," Marinello says. Judy Colson says there was discussion about whether the damage was so severe that Jonathan should be allowed to slip away. "One of your biggest fears is that you're going to create a patient who remains in a permanent vegetative state," Marinello says. "I thought he wasn't going to survive."
But Jonathan improved after two periods of cooling therapy. In between those treatments, part of his skull was removed to relieve the pressure. After the second cooling treatment, the swelling in his brain receded. Jonathan opened his eyes and grabbed for his feeding tube. The doctor then used a sharp instrument to create pain. If Jonathan closed his arms around his chest, it would indicate severe brain injury. "They wanted to see him squirm in pain and push away from it," Judy Colson says. "That was what he did." Later, doctors wanted to see him respond to communication. Mark Colson thought he saw indications that Jonathan knew what was happening around him.
"I was holding his hand," his father says. "We had a secret handshake. We went through it with his right hand." He had gotten through to his son. The doctor was called in. "You have to see this!' Mark Colson told him. "The doctor was amazed. He poked me and said: 'That's voluntary movement. That's a milestone.'"
Back on his feet
Jonathan soon began making "Rock on" signs to his mother. She would reply, "Rock on, dude," and smile One of the doctors told the Colsons: "We can't take credit for this. There are certain things we can't explain." Hard work at VCU Medical Center and the Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center in Charlottesville got Jonathan back on his feet at the end of June 2009. At Kluge, Jonathan wrote on a dry-erase board to communicate. His body was rejecting food and he had to be fed through a tube. He was given a nausea drug often prescribed for cancer patients. His father brought in a Kit Kat bar and sliced it into thin pieces, placing them one at a time on Jonathan's tongue. "He was absorbing some of it," Mark Colson says. "The best day of my life was the one Dad let me get a Happy Meal from McDonald's. That was the best meal I've ever eaten," Jonathan says. Speech therapy gradually restored his ability to talk. Jonathan is a Redskins fan, and his first word as he recovered his power of speech was "Portis," referring to then Washington running back Clinton Portis. For a long time he was in a wheelchair. Then he used a walker. Finally he tossed away the walker, saying, "I've got things to do." Jonathan was wobbly, but he kept going.
Returning to the field
Slowly, Jonathan's strength, coordination and reflexes are returning. He made the National Junior Honor Society at Post Oak Middle School this past year. He ran track for the school. He had always been the fastest runner on his teams, and his mother says that early on he cried in frustration over his loss of speed. He's not yet as fast as he was, and he's struggling to regain the athleticism that used to come naturally. But he's making progress. Jonathan says he told a teacher, "I'm doing track," and she said, "Really? What place did you come in?"
"I said my highest place was third. But I was only running against two people. She thought that was hilarious." And he played in a soccer league. He thinks about his friend Chelal all the time, he says. "I know he's up there looking over me," Jonathan says. Jonathan plays Wii Sports baseball and has made a Mii character for Chelal. "Look, I'm playing baseball with Chelal," he tells his mother. But when the subject of real baseball would come up, he would sternly tell his mother: "Forget it, Mom. I'll never play baseball again." Then, at his 13th-birthday party in May, the other kids jumped into the batting cage in the Colsons' backyard. Jonathan found himself drawn to the cage. He grabbed a bat, put on a helmet, walked in and started taking swings. "I felt like I'd never done it before," he says. But he hit the ball. Now he's practicing. And his goal is to return to the field. Just not that field at Lee Hill Park, his father says.